Behind the scenes at Glorious Goodwood

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The newcomer to Goodwood should leave the main road and instead approach from the hamlet of Charlton, huddled in the valley below. Your car creeps up the steep, narrow lane until, rounding a turn, you catch your breath. The grandstands are suddenly disclosed upon the horizon, like an elegant galleon riding some swollen, green sea.

Goodwood has perfectly credible claims as the world's most beautiful racecourse. Once you reach those stands, the panorama is so intoxicating that you scarcely notice the sporting dramas unfeasibly enacted along this giddy spur of the Sussex Downs.

Click the image above to see behind the scenes at Goodwood.

Looking to the south, across the parade ring, you see the Isle of Wight dozing in the Channel, and Chichester cathedral in its own reverie. The other way, across the track itself, the hills sway voluptuously into the distance. Charlton itself is buried from view, enfolded among the forests and cornfields; indeed, not a single building can be seen among these countless acres. It is as though the vista has been arranged on the principle that every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.

Which hardly seems the case if you survey the crowds during "Glorious Goodwood". This is the fifth and final day of the carnival, but even the gorgeous wardrobes of Ladies' Day, on Thursday, reflect the abiding enchantment of Goodwood. It has none of the sartorial suffocation of Royal Ascot. Nor, admittedly, is the racing quite so intense. But its pastoral milieu, and the ancient downland taverns that beckon later, together ensure that even those who must count their losses find themselves counting blessings instead.

It was Edward VII who described Goodwood as "a garden party with racing tacked on". He intended it as a compliment, of course. In his days as Prince of Wales, he did much to consolidate that ethos. True, the Duke of Richmond went to such fastidious extremes in entertaining him that the experience could hardly have been less relaxing.

When Edward took the train down to Chichester station, the Duke is even said to have taken the precaution of dying the train's coal white. That way, no black smuts would insinuate themselves into the royal garments. The dusty road up to Goodwood was also watered in advance of Edward's barouche.

He would always tend to add one or two names to the Duke's proposed guest list at Goodwood House - his mistresses, of course. None was more cherished by the racing public than Lillie Langtry, who loved coming here. Edward insisted on a relaxed atmosphere at the track, and discouraged the pomp of high society. He urged that black toppers be abandoned for "pot-hats", or even straw ones, and gradually established the dress code that survives today in linen suits and panamas.

The first blueblood to shape Goodwood racing, however, had been Lord George Bentinck, a cantankerous autocrat who introduced many lasting innovations to the early Victorian Turf. These included a draw for starting positions, and a flag start (instead of a starter barking "Go!"), though the enclosure for cigar smokers has not survived.

His enthusiastic partner in the transformation of the estate was the fifth Duke of Richmond. The sport had first been staged here in 1801, when the third Duke permitted the local militia to race their horses under the Iron Age camp of Trundle Hill - still a very decent vantage for those who consider the cost of admission to the course itself too exorbitant.

It was the third Duke who built Goodwood House. Intending an octagon, he ran out of money after just three sides. He had no legitimate children, but three by the housekeeper after his wife's death. The first Duke was himself conceived, supposedly between races at Newmarket, by Charles II and his French mistress, Louise de Querouaille. The dukedom was created when the boy was three, in 1675. He led a somewhat dissipated life. But then, as the present Duke himself remarks: "So many families of our type have had one like that in the middle, rather than at the beginning, and been ruined."

Under the supervision of this, the tenth Duke, the racecourse has been upgraded with deft and daring. At first, he could not get the Levy Board to support the project, blaming the former Labour politician then in charge, "who could never bring himself to make a loan to an earl". In the end, however, the March Stand was opened in 1980 - and it was, happily, years ahead of its time, serenely blending with both the bucolic and maritime flavours of its environment.

In since adding two more stands, and redesigning the parade ring, the architects have adroitly avoided any sense of violation. And those who go there today will recognise this place, in every respect, as a summit of the Turf.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power